Friday, March 21, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Home Not Flooded? Stay Out Of Shelter


HARRISONBURG, La. - Private rooms. Private baths. Free food. It doesn't sound like an emergency shelter to some residents of not-so-flooded areas in Catahoula Parish.

More than 20 people have been asked to leave the private rooms at the refuge, which opened in an empty nursing home last week. Operators say the shelter, in a rural area 160 miles northwest of New Orleans, cannot afford to take care of those whose homes aren't flooded.

"We're actually going to these people's homes to see if there is water there," said Shelia Mayo, Catahoula Parish civil-defense director.

About 60 people have come to the shelter, and parish officials are trying to make sure all of them have been forced out by floodwaters.

"Some people are panicking and falsifying applications," Mayo said. The nursing-home shelter is much posher than most, which are usually in school gymnasiums where people crowd together, sleep side by side on cots and share bathrooms.

Many people at the shelter, those who live alongside Bayou Louie in nearby Sicily Island, do have water in their homes. A road into the area is under five feet of water.

The flooding may get worse, forcing out more residents, because four nearby rivers - the Ouachita, Black, Tensas and Little - cannot drain because of the rising Mississippi.

The four rivers that wind through the parish normally drain into other rivers that flow the Mississippi basin. But they have nowhere to go because of melting snow from the North, floodwaters from Kentucky and more rain than usual in Louisiana.

Residents are angry that the Morganza Spillway is not being opened to let some of the water drain off. Opening the spillway would let more water go toward New Orleans.

"But they're not going to destroy New Orleans," said Sherry Townsend. "They're going to flood this place just like they did in 1991. I know big towns are important, but why not the little ones?"

Townsend and her husband are staying at the shelter. They are planning to build a new home near the Ouachita River, but some of their property is under water.

They had been staying with relatives who left their home for a camper on higher ground, and there wasn't room for the Townsends.

"We wanted to build a house, but now I don't even want to do that," Sherry Townsend said. "If this is how it's going to be every time it rains - well, I just can't handle it."

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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